Uterine fibroids are common non-cancerous tumours with a higher prevalence in older women and those of African descent. Most of them are discovered incidentally on clinical examination or imaging in asymptomatic women. This article summarises what fibroids are and how it affects a woman.
What are uterine fibroids?
Fibroids are the most common tumours of the reproductive tract. Uterine fibroids (leiomyomas or myomas) are the most common benign tumours in women. They are almost always non-cancerous or benign, and cancerous fibroids are rare.
They are composed of abnormal muscle cells that come together and form a fibrous mass within the uterus. Their nature is monoclonal (produced by the cells derived from a single cell). They develop in the uterus and are made of smooth muscle cells and fibrous connective tissue.
Their size can vary from person to person and in one person if more than one fibroid is present. The exact cause of fibroids still remains unknown, and genetics seem to play a role.
How does a fibroid affect a woman?
In most cases, uterine fibroids do not cause any symptoms. However, fibroids can cause certain symptoms in a few cases impacting the quality of life of a woman in various ways. The most common symptoms of fibroids are abnormal uterine bleeding, pelvic pressure, increased urine frequency, bowel dysfunction, urinary retention, low back pain, constipation, anemia due to blood loss, and painful intercourse.
Other than these, the complications can range from infertility to complications during pregnancy. Fibroids can impair fertility in various ways. Research states that the cause of infertility is fibroids in around 5-10% of patients.
It also has the potential to hamper the fetus and the mother during all stages of the pregnancy. During early pregnancy, women with fibroids have a comparatively high risk of miscarriage. In late pregnancy, fibroids can cause problems, such as preterm labour (also causing preterm delivery), placental abruption, fetal growth restriction, and fetal anomalies. During labour and delivery also, fibroids can create certain problems.
Lastly, not just this, fibroids can also impact the mental health of a woman. Researchers have found that the incidence of depression, anxiety and self-directed violence were higher among women with diagnosed Uterine Fibroids, especially among those women who experienced pain or other symptoms or who underwent a hysterectomy (surgical removal of the uterus).
Therefore, a woman must consult a doctor to treat it. The treatment options for symptomatic uterine fibroids include medical, surgical, and radiologically guided interventions.
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